22 Oct Finding Fate: Dad and Elton John
Until a few months ago, I didn’t believe in fate.
The thought that your actions lead to a pre-scripted destiny is one that I out and out rejected. We don’t live the life of those in films. We’re not pawns in a simulation, as interesting a notion as that is (sorry Elon). Life is random. Choices are individual; sometimes long thought out and mused on, but usually reactionary. We are not heading towards one designed endpoint, well, except for our deaths and the planet becoming uninhabitable through insufferable climate change.
I still believe that. Partly. Occasionally. Decreasingly.
2019 has been an interesting year for me. A mountain of my choices and uncontrollable events, bubbling along its usual stream to a definitive end-point so full of coincidences that this idea of fate I once dismissed so easily, became something I realised could be true in my world.
The endpoint. I lost my father. It was extremely unexpected. Despite illnesses and ill health causing him to slow down increasingly over the last decade, he was nowhere near the end of the book he was writing for himself. A freak accident led to a very brief hospital stay, which led to contracting pneumonia, which undetected (even with a fever) led to a rapid end of chapter. I don’t state this for sympathy. This is something we will all experience and have to deal with. But this fact is important to my acceptance of fate.
“I have to go home. You are home”
A year previous I’d moved out of London. I needed to calm down everything to aid my health. I went to Lowestoft, very close to one of my best friends, and fairly near several other people I knew. The sea air was magnificent, space and serenity were majestic and increased my wellbeing exponentially. I felt so much better. I would have stayed, but certain realities bubbled to the surface after several months (another story, for another time) and I needed to be back – or least much closer – to London and my family.
House sold in February, the task began of packing and bringing my life back to a metropolis. Temporarily I’d be staying in the family home and over the following few months I’d take a day every two/three weeks to travel back to Lowestoft with my Dad who drove, pack several more boxes, load up and then drive back. That was fate number one. Having a day out with just my father was rare, so it seemed that something was engineered to give me several of them doing this task.
We found a little cafe on the route that he loved and had a late breakfast there every time. We played along to Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 “Popmaster” competition. I was retold several stories from the past that I already knew, several more times, I can now quote them verbatim. All now cherished moments.
Given the event that then took place in mid-August, it’s not lost on me that moving back and being with the family was destiny. Rather than being half the UK away, I’ve been here to help, support, arrange, decide. I can’t imagine how much more stressful that would’ve been from a distance. Destiny brought me home at the point when it was most needed.
Accept the things to which fate binds you
On one of these trips back to Lowestoft, I’m doing what my antisocial generation is best known for; checking their phones, reading twitter, browsing Instagram, wasting time. All of a sudden I spot that a concert version of Les Miserables was announced for a 16 week run in London whilst the original production is replaced with a new staging and the Queens Theatre is refurbished and renamed to the Sondheim. In the cast are Alfie Boe, Matt Lucas, and Katy Seacombe. This show is special for our family – read previous blog posts for a clue as to why. If you find those clues then you’ll understand why those three actors in their respective roles are even more special to us.
We had to get tickets. Seeing that Michael Ball and Carrie Hope Fletcher were also in the cast, with the tickets being thrown on immediate sale, I knew it would sell out quickly. Dad’s disabilities meant we needed to book tickets via the producer’s access scheme. The phone call started. It went straight into the queue, there were several hundred ahead of us. We held on. It took the entire trip to get to the front of the queue. An exasperated telephonist in the box office took our booking, the entire family would be heading to this concert version on Dad’s birthday at the start of September.
Clearly. He didn’t make the show. A show already held dear in our hearts had an even more urgent sense of poignancy. We were meant to see that performance. For me that was not just from a break from making arrangements, it started to give me the space to breathe and work through what I needed too. Being on his birthday, it also gave us all a chance to sit and remember him, rather than running around like lunatics doing all the things that need to be worked out in these moments.
Turn me loose from your hands
Every year my Dad would peruse the list of record store day releases and give me several titles that he wanted. This year top of that list was Elton John live in Moscow – a recording that was owned and broadcast live by the BBC. My Dad didn’t like much modern music, Elton John was the exception. In this vinyl lay a recording of something that he listened to on the radio as it happened back in 1979.
I managed to get him a copy of this limited pressing and he was overjoyed. But in his busy household, the disc sat next to the turntable unplayed; waiting for his niece to finish her year’s studies and tidy up / move her books out of the way, waiting for a spare hour where he could sit down and just enjoy listening to it. That moment never arrived.
When we started to talk about his funeral, we knew there had to be an Elton John song in the mix. We knew he’d be leaving the church to “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis and that it would be Alfie Boe’s recording. Thinking of which Elton song would be fitting, my eyes drifted to the turntable. There was this live album, still shrink-wrapped, waiting. It was screaming to be played. The vinyl dropped to the platter, the needle lowered, and to my surprise, I found this concert was largely just Elton at the piano. No band. A few tracks had percussion from Ray Cooper. Overall much calmer takes on his songs, much more likely to blend in at a funeral.
But which song?
“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”?
Maybe. But the prominence of the title with its strong melody line just made it a cry of not being ready to leave the world behind. It wasn’t particularly in tune with the finality of the event, or the need to use it as a start of acceptance.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”?
Most people would probably find this perfect. We’re saying goodbye to the mortal coil, the craziness of the yellow brick road. But I’ve personally always taken the lyrics of this song to be Bernie Taupin giving his friend and writing partner Elton a strong message about his behaviour, his addictions, and their whirlwind life which he needed an out from. “I know you can’t hold me forever, I didn’t sign up with you.”
Given that this interpretation is the one given more credence in the recent Rocketman movie – which I took Dad to see on opening night (another fate) – I couldn’t allow this song to be used. It just wasn’t apt.
“Better Off Dead”?
As a family our sense of humour is dark. But not cruel. Though it would’ve been a funny choice.
Frustrated I turned to the other side. I then heard the words, “This next song, is a song which is one of my favourite compositions. And it’s called ‘Skyline Pigeon’.” I had no recollection of this song. I must’ve heard it. Dad had all the albums and I’d listened to them all many times.
A hymn-like song followed. Hymn in structure. Hymn in melody. Hymn in the soaring refrain, “Fly away, skyline pigeon fly. Towards the dreams You’ve left so very far behind.” I was meant to rediscover this forgotten song, at this time, on this piece of glorious 180g wax that Dad left so very far behind.
It wasn’t just a perfect song. The funeral directors always spoke to us about making decisions for the deceased as if they were still alive. We could leave notes or birthday cards for him, as an example. This is deliberate. It’s designed to help us cope with the sadness, the loss, the shock that grief starts. So in this instance, we were finally playing Dad the record that he was so excited to own just a few months before but never got around to spinning himself.
Despite this, the one fate associated with Dad that I’m not allowing to fulfill is the gift I got him for all the driving required to move. I bought him tickets to one of Elton’s final touring shows at the o2 in London. Despite being a year away, I knew that if I couldn’t face attending for all the reasons above, it would have been a financial hit too much to swallow – the tickets for the tour are not affordable, by a country mile!
2019, my year of fates
I was already thinking that a lot of the previous weeks had been destined to occur – coincidence or not. There was one more thing to come that cemented my change of mind and realisation that fate is indeed all around us.
I had a holiday long planned for the end of September and start of October. With Gen – one of my closest friends with whom I bonded over so many things, not in the least the work of Cameron Crowe – I’d be heading to California. The trip all based around attending and supporting the opening of the new musical of “Almost Famous” based on the film that Cameron wrote and directed, which in turn was based on his life experiences as a young journalist. It’s our favourite film. We always quote it. It binds us together forever.
The timing of the holiday was the purest form of destiny I can give an example of. I needed the break. From everyone and everything. I needed someone extremely dear to me at my side to help, support, and make sure I rested. The California sun was much needed to start repairing me. The easy-going and kind nature of San Diego – Cameron’s childhood home, where the story is set, and indeed where the show was debuting – was exactly what the doctor ordered.
The show and its story – with which I’ve always felt personal & parallel connections to – would be joyous to see in person. And it was. I gushed in a previous post about it. I loved seeing and feeling the love that there was for it and indeed for Cameron.
If you follow any of my social accounts you’ll in no doubt be aware that I did meet Cameron himself. He’s not just my idol, he’s someone I’ve felt a connection too. His work and his writing dive into my very being; I relate, I understand, I’ve experienced myself. So meeting him properly was more than a joy. His joy filled “hello,” and his hug were healing in itself.
The story of the moments leading to the meeting are for another time, but I feel like fates conspired to make them all happen for us both. And having one of my best friends there to share the moment, well, that just made it even better.
With all these things, coincidence or not, occurring and affecting me around this awful endpoint, how can I not start to change my view of the world and accept that fate is real and meant to be. Its fate that I’d type that sentence!
And do you know what? I can’t wait to see what it has in store for me next. Who will fate decide I meet and spend time with? Where will fate take my friends and family? When will the journeys that fate takes me on lead to another perfect moment to cherish? Whilst I will always be making the decisions that determine my destiny; the answers, my friend, are blowin’ in a (pre-determined) wind.